Kensington residents were awoken with an earth-shaking crash on Wednesday, Aug. 8, when an abandoned building collapsed with a bang.
The collapse unleashed a thick cloud of smoke.
Residents in the area said they heard a few noises before the 18,000-square-foot warehouse at 1835-61 E. Madison St. began to fall apart at around 11 a.m. that day.
“I heard like, a clicking noise,” said Will Vazquez, who lives behind the building site on the 1800 block of East Willard Street. “Then, it stopped. As soon as it stopped, the whole place came down.”
According to residents on scene Aug. 8, the building had long been a problem property.
Vazquez said drug users would often hide in the building to use narcotics and to avoid the prying eyes of the law.
Often, he said, he could see people moving in and out of the property carrying copper pipes in their arms, likely headed to cash the ill-gotten goods in at the scrap yard.
“That place was empty for at least 20 years,” said Kensington resident Carla Rodriguez. “Junkies were always coming in and out of there.”
Rodriguez’s aunt, Carmen Cruz, owns the grassy lot located immediately behind the fallen building.
The lot and the building are separate properties.
As reported by local anti-blight advocate Chris Sawyer on his blog philadelinquency.com, the former industrial building was owned by a company called Refurbish It, Inc. which owed nearly $33,000 in property taxes to the city on the now collapsed property.
The city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections took the company’s owner, George Capewell of Northeast Philadelphia, to court last month in order to force him to pay the delinquent taxes.
Rodriguez said her family was upset by the destruction caused by the collapsed building.
The cars on the property – which were crushed and destroyed by the fallen bricks – were owned by her uncle.
“Right now, my family, we are very upset,” she said, noting that the family had always locked the tall gates on the steel fence to the rear of the lot.
“We don’t know who opened it,” she continued. “We had just cleaned this lot because my aunt wanted to sell it. Now, it’s a mess.”
No one was reported injured as a result of the collapse. On Wednesday afternoon, crews worked to dig through the rubble and clean up debris.
Workers declined to comment to a reporter about the work they were doing on the site.
Yet Vazquez said that he, for one, was glad the building had finally come down - even if he had to wait for it to fall apart on its own.
“That place was a bomb waiting to explode. The city should have done something about it years ago,” he said. “It’s been a mess for years.”
Staff reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.